About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: Requiem for a Heavyweight


Anthony Quinn is veteran boxer Mountain Rivera, who is a punch away from blindness. So he sets about looking for something else to do, with the help of a sweet-natured employment consultant (Julie Harris), who sees the sensitive man behind the hulking frame, near-indecipherable speech, and loud manner. Unfortunately, Mountain’s long-time manager and friend Maish (a perfect Jackie Gleason) is in a financial bind, owing money to mobster Ma Greeny (Madame Spivy- incredible), and isn’t above manipulating his good buddy Mountain to fix his problems. Mickey Rooney plays Army, the veteran ‘cut man’ who genuinely cares for Mountain, and is disgusted by Maish’s behaviour.

 

Anthony Quinn gives an unforgettably moving performance in this 1962 Ralph Nelson (“Lilies of the Field”, “Charly”, “tick…tick…tick”) film written by Rod Serling (“The Twilight Zone”, “Planet of the Apes”) of all people. The film begins with a great tracking shot by cinematographer Arthur Ornitz (“A Thousand Clowns”, “Charly”, “Death Wish”), featuring a bunch of bar patrons, presumably boxers as they have that look of having their eyes punched into the back of their heads about them. The film has a particularly cool, stark B&W look for the non-boxing scenes too. The use of light and shadow in scenes such as the one where Jackie Gleason is cornered by crooks is terrific. In fact, the camerawork is excellent across the board, especially in fight scenes, such as the early one showing the woozy, blurry-eyed effects of boxing before settling on a close-up of the perfectly cast Quinn in all his awful, bashed-up glory. Here Quinn reminded me of a cross between Frankenstein’s pitiful monster, and Randy the Ram. Indeed, I’d be very surprised if the film (Nelson’s directing debut, by the way) weren’t an influence on the later “The Wrestler”, as they touch on a lot of the same themes and even have an unmistakably similar ending. He’s a hulking, lumbering monster with the soul of a human being inside.

 

This may in fact be the role and performance of Quinn’s career, and I’m glad he got the role instead of someone like say, Marlon Brando. Brando would’ve done the wheezing, mush-mouthed voice, but with a hollow centre. Quinn isn’t just technique, he’s really nailed the insides of this man. Quinn is backed up by one helluva supporting cast, with Jackie Gleason particularly memorable as a pathetic and desperate man who gets in over his head on debt to mobsters, manipulating his pal Quinn to make more money for him. He’s not a likeable man, but Gleason helps you understand the position he’s in. A middle-aged (and characteristically hammy, in the best sense) Mickey Rooney and Julie Harris provide the film’s only traces of light. Rooney makes for a nice, sympathetic contrast with Gleason, and plays well off Quinn, whose dialogue isn’t always easily discernible. Harris, meanwhile can be an overwrought performer at times, but not here in what may be her best film performance ever. She’s immediately right for the part. Mickey is likeable, Harris is sweet, and boy does the film need them. It’s a sad, heartbreaking, and shattering film, nearly every bit the equal of “The Harder They Fall”, and earlier film about the seamy side of the sweet science. It’s actually rather uncomfortable to watch at times.

 

Look out too, for an unusual and fascinating performance by former nightclub owner Madame Spivy as the film’s main heavy, gangster Ma Greeny. Spivy is indeed a woman, very unusual casting. Looking a bit like character actor Robert Emhardt, Spivy is probably not entirely convincing per se, but it’s nonetheless a compelling and memorable performance. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the character to be honest, as well as Harris’. To that, I must say I saw the cut version of the film, but it’s the most widely seen version of the film, and based on my research, nothing of great importance was cut (a little over 10 minutes worth of scenes, though), and only one scene with the Ma Greeny character seems to have been cut.

 

Meanwhile, the film is worth seeing just to witness Muhammad Ali play himself, amazingly humbly by his standards, as well as a cameo by fellow fighter Jack Dempsey. Gigantic pro wrestler Haystacks Calhoun appears at the very end of the film, but only seen from behind and at a distance. That’s one big sumabitch right there, folks. If there’s an issue I have with the film, it’s the favouritism of boxing over wrestling. Boxing can be a pretty dirty, disreputable sport, but wrestling is conveyed as a ridiculous cartoon and ‘fixed’. True, I know wrestling wasn’t always seen as it is today (where most fans know exactly what is and isn’t ‘real’ about it, and non-fans frankly don’t care), but I still think it’s an exaggeration of the sentiment of the time, for dramatic purposes. Even back then, a lot of people knew moves were choreographed to lessen impact and the finishes were pre-determined, so I can’t imagine it was seen as that bad a career move, and I doubt a boxer would get upset at taking a ‘dive’ as a wrestler. As someone who loves wrestling and hates boxing, I have to say I was offended by the sentiment.

 

A really strong, quite shattering look at boxing, very powerful and featuring several excellent performances.

 

Rating: B

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Capricorn One


James Brolin, Sam Waterston and…um…OJ Simpson play a trio of astronauts about to embark on the first manned space trip to land on the surface of Mars. At the last minute, however, the trio are pulled from the ship and taken in secret to an abandoned hanger out in the middle of nowhere. While the empty rocket takes off without them, NASA mission head Hal Holbrook gives the men a talking to (and it’s a helluva speech). Apparently NASA only learned a few weeks ago that the contractor had done some dodgy work on the life-support system, and had they gone up, they would’ve died. Cancelling the mission would’ve seen funding to NASA cut considerably. So it was decided to fake the whole thing, and the astronauts must participate in the charade (via faked TV footage done in the hanger- a makeshift studio) or else risk the safety of all of their loved ones. However, the astronauts quickly learn that NASA has no plans to let the three of them live, as the shuttle burns on re-entry. Realising they are about to meet their makers, the trio flee the compound. Now the chase is on, as NASA can’t have three dead men with one helluva story to tell, get away from them. Meanwhile, a nosy investigative reporter (Elliott Gould) starts to smell an evil conspiracy, but might just pay for his meddling, with his own life. Brenda Vaccaro plays Brolin’s wife, David Huddleston is a crafty Congressman, David Doyle is Gould’s prick of an editor, Karen Black has a small role as a journalistic colleague, and Telly Savalas plays a crop-duster.

 

I had avoided this 1978 film from writer/director Peter Hyams (“Outland”, “Timecop”, “End of Days”) all these years on the mistaken belief that it was a typically bland, anti-septic looking sci-fi film in the mould of “THX-1138”, “The Andromeda Strain”, Hyams’ own “2010”, etc. Turns out I was entirely wrong, this one’s for the ‘faked moon landing’ conspiracy theory nuts, it’s not really science-fiction at all. I’m not among those people, but I am more than willing to listen and find such material fascinating. This is easily one of the best films of its type (and Hyams’ best film to date as director), and I feel terrible for not seeing it sooner, it’s a cracker of a thriller.

 

Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”, “Planet of the Apes”, “The Boys From Brazil”), the best of all film composers in my opinion, gets us off to a pitch-perfect start over the credits, rock-solid stuff right there. Meanwhile, long-serving character actor David Huddleston (Grandpa Arnold on “The Wonder Years”) immediately impresses in an early supporting role as a shifty congressman, and accused murderer O.J. Simpson has modern audiences watching the backs of James Brolin and Sam Waterston, as their fellow astronaut. Hindsight is a helluva thing, folks, and an amateur comedian’s dream. Brolin, with a haircut that makes him look exactly like son Josh, is a block of wood (Didn’t Hyams realise he needed an actual actor for the part?), but surprisingly Sam Waterston gives the only good performance of his career just about, as the smart alec of the trio of astronauts.

 

Intrigue sets in early, the material is absolutely fascinating and thrilling. The conspiracy/paranoia is aided by the choice casting of Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat in “All the President’s Men”) as the untrustworthy NASA head, in a scene-stealing performance. From there you’re hooked, even if it’s just a tad on the silly side, especially when a lively Telly Savalas turns up as a crop duster. Oh he’s great fun, don’t get me wrong, just…not especially convincing. Ridiculous as it is, the helicopter-crop duster chase scene sure is something. Very effective, discombobulating, swooping camerawork by Bill Butler (“Grease”, “Frailty”) in that scene. Elliott Gould also deserves a mention for adding personality to a character that could very well have been dry and thankless in the hands of a lesser talent. The highly underrated Brenda Vaccaro has an even weaker role, but true to form she gives it her absolute best shot. Look out for TV’s Bosley, “Charlie’s Angels” actor David Doyle in a fun role as Gould’s sarcastic jerk of an editor.

 

This is entertaining escapism, just shy of being completely convincing, but it’ll definitely satisfy the conspiracy nut inside of you. One or two plot contrivances (and one of the worst day/night continuity errors I’ve ever seen, in the second half. You can’t miss it) just held it back a tad for me, but this was overall considerably better than expected. A good yarn, not sure about the hokey, slow-mo ending, however. What the hell was that all about?

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Warm Bodies


Zombies are now seen as a menace to society. But R (Nicholas Hoult) immediately strikes us as different. For starters, he’s the surprisingly articulate narrator of the beginning of the film, even though his speaking voice is a whole lot slower to get the words out than his internal monologue. He’s a thinking zombie, it seems, and is certainly different from the skeletal Bonies, zombies that are far too gone, with no trace of humanity left whatsoever, including skin. But like I said, R is much different. When he eats the brains of Teresa Palmer’s boyfriend (Dave Franco, James’ brother) and gains access to his memories, he feels a connection to Palmer. Palmer is understandably a little frightened, what with R being a zombie and having eaten her boyfriend’s brains. But after taking Palmer away from almost certain lunch by R’s zombie brethren (including Rob Corddry) not to mention the Bonies, something of a bond develops between human and zombie. And it’s this bond that might just prove to be the breakthrough in the battle between humans and zombies. In order for that to happen, though, Palmer must get through to her hawkish father (John Malkovich), leader of a militant group trying to wipe out the zombies. Analeigh Tipton plays Palmer’s sister, who is somewhat shocked by her new ‘interest’.

 

What looks at first glance like an uncomfortable and unendurable zombie version of “Twilight” turns out unexpectedly interesting. Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (who after his lame debut with “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” and the uneven “50/50” is getting better and better), it’s certainly smart enough to never take itself too seriously, at any rate. Just make sure you’re smart enough not to think too much about wanting to see a human and a zombie get together. We’re talking necrophilia, people and the film is based on a book for young adults. Yep, necrophilia is sooo cool wit’ the young ‘uns, apparently. Then again I guess the situation in the “Twilight” films is just as sick, too. Vampires are undead, and don’t even get me started on werewolves. If it weren’t for the monochromatic, “Twilight” rip-off visual palette chosen by the cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (“The Road”, and yes, “Twilight: New Moon”), I’d have liked this film even more. It’s like the film was trying to have its cake and eat it too, somewhat, and it’s no surprise to find Summit Entertainment behind it.

 

As is, though, it’s still surprisingly fun, interesting, and disarmingly funny. Nicholas Hoult’s narration is refreshingly funny to the point where if it weren’t for all the “Twilight” similarities, you wouldn’t even guess at its young adult literature origins. Hoult’s words not quite matching the speed of his inner monologue doesn’t really make any sense, but the film would be much lesser without that narration/inner monologue. In fact, the film could’ve stood to be even funnier than it is. Meanwhile, whatever comparisons one could make between Teresa Palmer and Kristen Stewart in regards to their looks, there’s no doubt the Aussie has much more range. Former “America’s Next Top Model” graduate Analeigh Tipton (whom I instantly recognised, making me reassess my TV viewing habits) steals her every scene as Palmer’s sister, through sheer charisma and personality. She’s one to watch in future, I think, and it’s a shame she’s not in the film all that much.

 

There’s some really interesting stuff here in relation to the depiction of zombies. They aren’t all in lock-step with one another, and seem ever-so slightly alive. I also found the idea interesting that eating brains allows the zombies to experience humanity through another person’s memories. There’s something almost sad and touching about it…so long as you don’t think about it too much. The soundtrack also deserves a mention, it’s like Levine has raided my CD collection. There’s even G ‘n’ R’s seminal power ballad ‘Patience’ at one point. Some of the songs are specifically chosen for humorous purposes like ‘Hungry Heart’ by Springsteen, and how many zombie movies feature the haunting ‘Ain’t Missing You’ by John Waite (Perhaps the only man who can claim to have been a three-time one-hit wonder)? That song has an amusing payoff later in the film, too.

 

Although it’s a huge waste of John Malkovich, and tries not to alienate the “Twilight” crowd, this film is a cut above that crap, thanks mostly to a sense of humour and a killer soundtrack of 80s rock hits. It’s no “Romeo and Juliet”, but it sure as shit ain’t no Twi-hard, either. I may not have been a fan of “Shaun of the Dead”, and I may have tired of “The Walking Dead” somewhere during the second season, but this was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2013 and breathed new life in an undead subgenre.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Olympus Has Fallen


Gerard Butler plays a disgraced former Presidential guard who failed to save the life of the First Lady (Hello and goodbye Ashley Judd), but finds a chance at redemption when he just so happens to be inside the White House when it comes under terrorist siege by dastardly North Koreans, led by dead-eyed Rick Yune. It’s up to him to stop Yune’s nefarious plans (involving codes for all the nukes), and rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart), the Secretary of Defence (Melissa Leo) and several other bigwigs currently held hostage in a convenient secret underground bunker! Meanwhile, Butler is in contact with the likes of Secret Service Head Angela Bassett, Speaker of the House Morgan Freeman, and military man Robert Forster from outside the White House. Dylan McDermott plays Butler’s Secret Service buddy who is the inside man. Radha Mitchell plays Butler’s main squeeze, a nurse.

 

As was the case in 1998 when two asteroid movies were released the same year, 2013 saw two action movies set in the White House involving terrorism. This one from Antoine Fuqua (The overrated “Training Day”, the stupid “King Arthur”, the eye-rollingly bad “Tears of the Sun”) came first, but I greatly preferred Roland Emmerich’s dumb but highly entertaining, old-school actioner “White House Down”. Not only did it have a more enjoyable cast, but if “White House Down” was “Die Hard”, this one’s that shitty season of “24” with Bauer being tortured by the Chinese. It’s just no fun at all, it’s the same damn movie done much worse (The Speaker gets sworn in as POTUS in both films for cryin’ out loud). Seeing the films in the space of just two days probably didn’t help, but this is inferior in pretty much every way. “White House Down” gave us Obama against an aggrieved father of a fallen soldier, whilst this one gives us a white dude and another white dude against martial-arts fighting North Koreans (!). And instead of Jimmy Woods, we get Dylan McDermott. Dylan McDermott ain’t no Jimmy Freakin’ Woods, and both his performance and the motivation of his character are dopey.

 

Cold-eyed Rick Yune has his moments as the chief villain, but those moments are too few. Gerard Butler is perfectly acceptable in the lead but can’t save a film on his own. An appalling waste of Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett, and the stunning Ashley Judd in particular. Morgan Freeman, meanwhile proves more predictable casting as the Speaker than did Richard Jenkins in “White House Down”.

 

Aside from a thunderous music score by Trevor Morris (“Immortals”), there’s not much reason to watch this film when it was done so much more entertainingly in “White House Down”, not to mention the several seasons of “24” that didn’t suck (Including “Live Another Day”, despite a return appearance by those pesky Chinese terrorists). This one’s just not much fun. The screenplay is by debutants Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, which is weird considering it’s essentially the same film as “White House Down”, which only took one writer.

 

Rating: C

Review: White House Down


Channing Tatum plays a screw-up with a military past who gets rejected for Presidential Secret Service detail. Nonetheless he takes the time to take a tour of the White House with his political geek 11 year-old daughter (Joey King) when all hell breaks loose. A group of the FBI’s Most Wanted headed by paramilitary-type Jason Clarke and working for disgruntled retiring head of Secret Service James Woods has invaded the White House! Woods’ son was a soldier killed on what he feels was President Jamie Foxx’s watch, something he wants POTUS to pay for. Now it’s up to Tatum, whose presence is not yet known to the terrorists, to save the President’s life, and the day. Michael Murphy plays the useless VP, Richard Jenkins plays the Speaker of the House whose protection Tatum is currently a part of, and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Woods’ star pupil, who rejected Tatum (whom she went to college with, no less) for the Presidential Secret Service gig.

 

Every year brings with it a few films that genuinely surprise you in a positive way you weren’t expecting, and this refreshingly old-school action/thriller from director Roland Emmerich (“ID4”, “The Day After Tomorrow”) and writer James Vanderbilt (“Basic”, “Zodiac”, “The Amazing Spider Man”), was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2013 for me. In fact, I’d argue it’s Emmerich’s best film to date, for whatever that’s worth. The set-up is definitely in the tradition of “Die Hard”, and elements of the Channing Tatum character aren’t too far removed from John McClane, either (A father with a strained relationship with the mother of his kid, he’s a resourceful hero stuck in the middle of a terrorist situation, etc.). Co-star Jimmi Simpson has undoubtedly seen “Die Hard” as he’s essentially giving the same performance as the guy who played the computer whiz among the terrorists in that film.

 

It’s a pretty good role for Tatum, and given he served as EP on the film, he obviously believed in the project. It takes a lot of balls to try and make a traditional 80s-style action-thriller today, especially when the President is a key figure in the plot of the film (As is the case with another film from 2013, “Olympus Has Fallen”, which came out first but I saw second). The character is rather troubled, and while he’s easy to root for, you can also see why he doesn’t get hired at the beginning of the film. You want the best and most reliable to be among the POTUS’s security detail, and this guy doesn’t seem reliable. But then he spends the next two hours or so redeeming himself, and proving himself. Jamie Foxx, meanwhile is an easygoing Obama-esque President. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Republican James Woods is the lead villain. When it’s his wont, Woods can be one of the most dynamic of all actors, and here he’s having an absolute field day basically trying to kill Obama. Both he and the lead terrorist played by a well-cast Jason Clarke have interesting motives and backgrounds. The film may be silly as all hell, but it’s not brainless and stupid. There’s also good back up by the very fine Richard Jenkins and the just plain lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal, who needs to be in every movie as far as I’m concerned.

 

It’s a bit slow early on, but this should’ve been awful…and it’s not. I’m shocked, but this is jolly good fun and certainly better than “Air Force One”. Some will likely find it distasteful in a post-9/11 world, but I somewhat yearn for the days of 80s action blockbusters and this is perhaps the first film since 1997’s “Con Air” to bring me back to the good ‘ol days. You’d swear Steven E. de Souza (“Commando”, “The Running Man”, “Die Hard”) had a hand in the script, it certainly has his mixture of action and a sense of humour. God help me, but I had a ball with this one.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Hummingbird


Jason Statham stars as an emotionally and psychologically shattered ex-Special Forces soldier now basically a denizen of the streets, having gone AWOL for some hazy reasons. He was made into a killing machine by the military, but what good is that now that he’s back home and is still haunted by his actions? Statham is trying to make things right with the mother of his child, as well as trying to keep an eye on another homeless person whose whereabouts are currently unknown. He also forms an odd and unlikely bond with a compassionate nun (Agata Buzek) who works in the soup kitchen Statham (who also has a drinking problem) occasionally frequents. He’s clearly looking for redemption of some kind. Statham’s temper and violent tendencies occasionally get the better of him, though, and he also manages to land a disreputable gig working for a Chinese mobster. The latter is because he’s still trying to find out what happened to his friend. He’ll stop at nothing to find the truth.

 

Perhaps inspired by the earlier “Safe”, Jason Statham finds himself cast in an unusually vulnerable, tortured role in this nearly successful action/drama from 2013. Written and directed by Steven Knight (writer of “Amazing Grace” and more importantly “Eastern Promises”), Statham actually nails it this time, where in “Safe” he wasn’t quite up to the task. You definitely won’t have seen him quite as vulnerable as he allows himself to be here. He’s also well-matched by Agata Buzek as a compassionate nun, a very good performance from her, even if her character’s behaviour isn’t always plausible.

 

It’s an interesting and unexpected film (though maybe not if you were already aware that Knight wrote “Eastern Promises”), if a bit lumpy and disjointed for my liking. There’s not a whole lot of action, but when it comes, Statham sure is a mean fucker, isn’t he? He even engages in a bit of martial arts from time to time. The film also shows off some excellent London locales.

 

The film definitely has something with Statham’s shattered and disillusioned military-made machine of a man, but it’s not entirely successful (much like “Safe”, really). Statham die-hards are warned, but the curious might find it interesting to see him doing something a little different.

 

Rating: C+